Donald Trump Jr said he has had essentially “zero contact” with the president of the United States since his father took office and handed management of his business, without divesting, to his two adult sons.
“I basically have zero contact with him at this point,” Trump Jr told about 1,000 Republicans at a fundraiser in Dallas, Texas, on Saturday night.
Federal law exempts the president from ethics rules regarding conflicts of interest, but the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), as well as conservative and liberal attorneys, have repeatedly told the White House its plan to separate Trump from his businesses does not go far enough. In January, Trump declined to divest from his sprawling business interests, the extent of which remains unclear, given his refusal to release tax returns in the tradition of other presidents.
The White House has insisted that Trump has taken sufficient steps to remove himself from his businesses, promising, for instance, to give payments from foreign government guests, such as diplomats courted at Trump’s new Washington hotel, to the US treasury. In January, a group of ethics attorneys, including former counsels to George W Bush and Barack Obama, sued Trump, alleging that such payments violated the emoluments clause of the constitution.
Trump has said that his sons, 39-year-old Donald Jr and 33-year-old Eric, would take over day-to-day business management, and both continue to travel extensively in the US and abroad in the service of their family business. At the Republican fundraiser, Trump Jr said he missed elements of the presidential campaign.
“I thought I was out of politics after election day,” he said. “I thought I’d be going back to my regular job. I thought I’d be really excited about it. But once you get a little bit of a taste of that action, it’s hard to leave.
“You know, listen, deals are still exciting, but when you’re sort of the guy out there 24/7, every day, fighting in this thing – it’s like a great fight, the intensity.”
The president’s son said he did not expect to hold office himself. “I don’t miss the politics, I promise. I want nothing to do with the politics, but I miss the intensity of that,” he said.
The Texas senator Ted Cruz, a bitter rival during the presidential primary who eventually endorsed Trump, also spoke at the event. During the campaign, Trump Jr said his father did not need Cruz’s support, and that the senator could not defeat him “without bribing” for votes. As a candidate, Trump spread a baseless conspiracy theory that Cruz’s father had been involved in the assassination of John F Kennedy.
On Saturday night, Trump Jr joked about this acrimony, noting that Cruz and his family had dinner with the president this week. “I don’t even know that I have to deliver a punchline to that, but it’s sort of ironic,” he said. “Who would’ve thought a year ago that Ted Cruz would be having dinner with my father and I basically have zero contact with him at this point?”
Trump’s children have visited the White House since their father’s inauguration, and the president has appointed his son-in-law, the real estate scion Jared Kushner, to a senior adviser role. In January, experts in ethics law expressed anxiety that Kushner’s appointment, although cleared by the justice department, ran afoul of federal anti-nepotism law. Trump’s daughter Ivanka has said she would resign from her business roles, but an endorsement of her branded products by another White House adviser, Kellyanne Conway, violated ethics rules, according to the OGE.
According to documents first published by ProPublica in February, the president has set up a revocable trust, run by Trump Jr and a Trump Organization official, “to hold assets for the exclusive benefit” of the president. The family’s south Florida golf club, Mar-a-Lago, doubled its entrance fee to $200,000 after Trump’s inauguration.
The White House has so far declined to say directly whether taxpayer dollars are directly profiting the Trump Organization, though its leaders have boasted of indirect benefit. In an interview at a Trump hotel this week, Eric Trump told the New York Times: “I think our brand is the hottest it has ever been.”
In court documents filed last month, a lawyer for the first lady, Melania Trump, argued that her position afforded a “unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to establish “multimillion dollar business relationships” because of her new status as “one of the most photographed women in the world”.
The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on whether the federal agency was renting space in Manhattan’s Trump Tower, Mar-a-Lago, or any other Trump-owned property. Trump has visited his properties nine times in just over seven weeks of his presidency, most recently a Virginia golf club on Saturday.
Trump Hotels has planned to develop a $50m property in downtown Dallas, though the building would bear the organization’s new brand, Scion. The project is currently being developed with international investors and a Turkish businessman, Mukemmel “Mike’’ Sarimsakci, according to the Dallas Morning News, despite Sarimsakci’s history of lawsuits and tax trouble. A spokeswoman told the newspaper this week that the Trump Organization had no signed agreement with Sarimsakci.
A company representative did not immediately respond to follow-up questions asked by the Guardian.